Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1993
Flood protection along Great Miami River was Gordon Rentschler's legacy to area
By Jim Blount
In New York, Washington and the world, Gordon Sohn Rentschler built a reputation as an astute financier from the start of the Great Depression through World War II. But in his native Hamilton and surrounding region, he was appreciated by earlier generations for his leadership in a massive public improvement.
Rentschler, born in Hamilton Nov. 25, 1885, was president of the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co. until moving to New York to start a 23-year career with the National City Bank (later Citibank) in 1925.
"One activity, while he was a Hamilton resident, would have been enough to mark him as a foresighted leader, as a benefactor to his community," said the Journal-News when Rentschler died. "This was his work as one of the three directors of the Miami Conservancy District."
Rentschler took the lead in securing help for flood-ravaged Hamilton in March 1913 and "gave of his talent in promoting legislation, engineering, financing and construction to make the valley forever afterwards safe from depredations," the newspaper observed.
March 27 -- two days after the flood struck the city -- Rentschler chaired the formation of the Hamilton Citizens Relief Committee, which sought and coordinated aid coming into the community. He also focused on flood prevention and lobbied the Ohio General Assembly in behalf of legislation creating the Miami Conservancy District, a cooperative of nine counties along the Great Miami River.
Rentschler was one of the three original MCD directors appointed June 28, 1915, joining Henry M. Allen of Troy and Edward Deeds of Dayton, president of National Cash Register.
For Gordon Rentschler, the MCD directorship was not an honorary position. At his own expense -- and joined by Deeds -- he went to New York in 1917 to seek buyers for about $35 million in 30-year bonds to finance widening the river, building levees and dams and completing other aspects of the flood protection project.
The National City Bank became the prime purchaser, and, in the process, Rentschler started a friendship with Charles E. Mitchell, the bank's president. It was a relationship which led to Rentschler being Mitchell's choice to takeover direction of the bank when he retired in 1929.
With adequate funding, the Miami Conservancy District -- without federal money -- progressed to completion by April 17, 1923. Gordon Rentschler remained a MCD director until Aug. 17, 1932, when his position was assumed by his brother, George.
"Ever since he was made chairman of the clearing house in New York during the fateful days of the bank holiday in 1933, Gordon Rentschler rendered a service that will not be forgotten by those who worked with him," said David Lawrence, a national columnist, in eulogizing the Hamilton native.
"Here was a man whose advice to government was always given with the deepest sincerity because he believed thoroughly that private finance and government operations were not incompatible, and that the public interest could be served by an intelligent understanding of both," said Lawrence.
"Here was a man who almost never made a public speech, who never sought publicity of any kind, who never really sought applause from any quarter -- a truly remarkable personality who differed so completely from men in public service."
A 349-acre tract, known recently as the Gordon Rentschler farm, is the issue in a referendum facing Hamilton voters Nov. 2 and the catalyst for related elections in the City of Fairfield and Fairfield Township. Hamilton wants to buy the farm as part of a 1,037-acre annexation and development plan, which is opposed by township officials.
The mansion on that property is believed to have been started in the 1830-1840 era by Joseph Hough, a pioneer Hamilton merchant, and later acquired by his daughter, Mary, and her husband, John M. Millikin. They passed the farm -- known then as Maplewood -- to their son, Daniel Millikin, who sold it in the 1880s to George Adam Rentschler, the father of Gordon Rentschler.
George -- who died May 24, 1923 -- expanded the house in the 1890s. Gordon owned the property in 1925 when he moved to the New York bank. He maintained two residences, including one on Long Island, until his death March 3, 1948.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 1993
Champion founder's, Peter G. Thomson, came to Hamilton in 1891 to sell real estate
By Jim Blount
Peter Gibson Thomson came to Hamilton to sell real estate, but the 39-year-old Cincinnati native's most dramatic contribution to the community has been the Champion paper mill, which will mark 100 years of operation in April 1994.
The opening of Hamilton's second safe factory attracted Thomson here a little more than a century ago. The Mosler Safe & Lock Company completed its move from Cincinnati in 1891, bringing more than 200 jobs to Hamilton. The previous year, the city's first safe firm, Macneale & Urban, also had relocated from Cincinnati.
The newcomers would need housing and in 1891 Thomson bought 187 acres of farm land west of the Great Miami River along Seven Mile Pike (now North B Street) and divided the former Rhea property into two subdivisions.
Hamilton City Council accepted the plats for Grand View and Prospect Hill Oct. 29 and Nov. 17, 1891, a few weeks after Mosler's Oct. 12 plant opening.
In developing residential areas west of the river, Thomson was bucking local housing tradition. That part of the city had not expanded much since Rossville had been merged into Hamilton in 1855. For years, most industrial growth had been east of the river, and factory owners and their employees had preferred residences within walking distance of their jobs.
Thomson worked from the Woltz & Company real estate and auction office at 244 High Street. Later, he moved to a small office he built on the edge of the Prospect Hill subdivision, near the present intersection of North B and Black streets. (That 14 by 18-foot structure would become Champion's first office in 1893.)
Thomson promised his land buyers a bridge, the first Black Street Bridge. He kept his word, contributing $15,000 for the span, which was built in 1892.
Prospect Hill began on the high ground west of the Champion mill site and extended west to North F Street and north from Liberty Street, including the present Rhea, Elvin, Warwick, Cleveland, Ridgelawn and Prytania avenues.
There was supposed to be a Martha Avenue, extending east from North D Street to the Black Street Bridge, and a Stillwaugh Avenue, paralleling D Street. The plat also showed Elvin Avenue continuing east from the small park at North D and Prytania to North B Street. Instead, Thomson eventually built his paper mill on what had been planned as Martha and Stillwaugh avenues and the Elvin extension.
Grand View stretched east from Eaton Avenue and North E Street almost to North D Street and Prytania Avenue. It was bounded on the south by Gray Avenue and on the north by Haldimand Avenue. It includes Cereal, Webster, Gordon, Sherman, Progress, Cleveland and Prytania avenues and North E and North F streets.
The wooded hilltop had been a popular spot for Sunday school picnics and similar outings before it was developed by Thomson. Part of the Rhea farm almost became known as College Hill. When Hamilton leaders considered building an academy or college in 1854, Thomas Rhea had offered four acres at the top of what became North D Street for a campus, but the plan didn't materialize.
It was Mosler's move to East Hamilton which led to Thomson's entry into real estate. But his West Side subdivisions were clearly marketed to workers employed by established factories in the northern part of the city, especially the Niles Tool Works along north Third Street (property which Champion would acquire in 1960).
"The most remote lot in Prospect Hill and Grand View Additions is less than 10 minutes walk from the mammoth establishment (Niles), employing 1,000 men, and the nearest lot is three minutes walk over the new bridge which will be constructed next year," noted a November 1891 ad. The same ad said lot prices started at $150 for 30-foot frontage running 125 feet deep to a 16-foot alley. To buy such a tract required "a cash payment of $5 and then $1 per week without interest or taxes."
"Nearly 150 lots sold and over 20 residences sure to be erected this year," boasted a Thomson ad in January 1892. But Hamilton's real estate boom fizzled later that year during a national business depression and Thomson looked for another business opportunity. In 1893 he incorporated the Champion Coated Paper Company and production started in April 1894 in a small plant built on land on which a few months earlier he had envisioned as home sites.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 20, 1993
Champion Coated Paper Company started in 1893 during protracted financial panic
By Jim Blount
November 1893 didn't seem like a good time to start a new company. The American economy was well into an extended decline. The recession of 1892 had turned into the worldwide Panic of 1893, the first in 20 years. But the financial gloom didn't stop a Cincinnati native from incorporating a new business 100 years ago.
Peter G. Thomson raised $100,000 in capital to build and equip a new mill to coat paper in Hamilton. Some called it a gamble; others saw it as a shrewd decision. Thomson planned to take advantage of a recent technological advance -- one he believed would change the printing and advertising businesses in the United States.
His Champion Coated Paper Company was incorporated in the first week of November 1893 - the same week that a Hamilton newspaper published a Bradstreet's report, headlined "Business Failures," which reflected "the magnitude of this year's (business) disasters."
With two months remaining in the year, 4,935 businesses had failed in the U.S. in 1893. The 10-month total was more than twice the 2,027 closings reported in 1892. The highest failure total in the previous decade had been 2,853 companies in 1884. Recent failures had included six paper companies in and around Hamilton.
Thomson -- attracted by city's industrial expansion -- came to Hamilton in 1891 to sell real estate. He bought 187 acres west of the Great Miami River, platted two residential subdivisions and advertised 30x120-foot lots for $5 down and $1 per week.
When the depression slowed land sales, the 42-year-old entrepreneur built the paper-coating plant on some of his land, a decision based on Thomson's 20 years as a bookseller, editor, printer and publisher in Cincinnati. He realized the paper and printing industries were entering an era of change.
Through the 1880s, illustrations in newspapers, magazines, books and other publications had been produced by wood cuts, and steel or copper engravings -- time-consuming methods which yielded black-and-white reproductions lacking detail.
Between 1852 and 1886, the halftone process was invented and developed by several enterprising men, including Fox Talbott, Joseph Swan, Georg Meisenbach, Frederic E. Ives, Stephen H. Horgan and brothers Louis E. Levy and Max Levy.
The halftone broke the tonal values of a photograph or illustration into a pattern of tiny dots, reproducing images of people, places and objects with realistic variations of light and gray shadows.
The halftone emerged as George Eastman, a Rochester, N. Y., bookkeeper, was revolutionizing photography, and as Ottmar Mergenthaler, a Baltimore watchmaker, was perfecting the Linotype. These independent developments coincided with -- and encouraged - the expansion of advertising in the late 1880s.
A critical need was paper with a surface suitable for halftone reproductions. Existing grades of paper were rough and uneven, resulting in marred images. The market demanded paper with coating to fill hollow spots and provide a smooth, ink-receptive surface to capture the varied shades of the halftones.
Patents for such a paper had been issued to Charles H. Gage, president of the Champion Card and Paper Co. of Pepperell, Mass. Gage's patents covered machines which would simultaneously coat both sides of a web of paper.
Thomson acquired perpetual rights to Gage's patents by granting the Massachusetts company half interest in the $100,000 Hamilton mill, which for five years would be restricted to selling its coated paper west of Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Within 11 months of the April 1894 startup, Thomson bought back the $50,000 Massachusetts interest.
The Champion Coated Paper Company prospered as the 1893 depression extended into 1897. Thanks to Thomson's vision, the capacity of the Hamilton mill had to be doubled six times within its first five and a half years of operation.
By 1900, printing publications were observing that "there are in the United States but 21 paper coating mills, and of these, the Champion is the youngest and also the largest. It is twice as big as the second mill, and larger in capacity than all the others combined."
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 1993
Does ghost of hanged man haunt Butler County courthouse?
By Jim Blount
Does a ghost still haunt the Butler County Courthouse? One hundred years ago, when the building was just four years old, the spirit of a man hanged in the previous structure was reported inside and outside the courthouse completed in February 1889.
In 1893, newspapers in Hamilton and Middletown agreed the ghost was that of a man found hanged in the treasurer’s office in the late 1860s, but their reports differed on details of his demise. Both accounts were based on theft from the public coffers.
"Many apparitions of frightful mien are said to have been seen about the courthouse during the past three years," said the Hamilton Republican.
In one instance, the newspaper said, a county employee, while walking through the new courthouse, noticed the clock in the treasurer’s office had stopped running.
Later, a night watchman was walking through the building shortly after midnight when "suddenly the clock in the treasurer’s office began to strike." The curious watchman entered the office and, "as he stepped to the door, the stroke became painfully distinct and seemed to almost speak with human shrillness. After the clock had struck 21 times, it ceased as abruptly as it began," the newspaper said.
The watchman heard "a slight noise" and saw a "lifelike face . . . overshadowing the dial of the clock. The face looked sad, the countenance was that of a man who seemed anxious to tell something, but was deprived of the power of speech."
The face reportedly was that of an earlier watchman who, "mounting a chair, hung himself to the chandelier" in the vault of the treasurer’s office. The apparent suicide victim was "an honest man," said the Republican, "honored for his integrity of purpose."
His spirit "haunts the new courthouse," said the 1893 report, and his ghost is seen "silently walking to and fro in the courthouse yard" between midnight and 1 a.m.
The Middletown Signal said the man may not have died by his own hand. He was an employee of the treasurer’s office by day "and slept in the office" as "the guardian of the people’s money by night."
He "was sleeping peacefully when the clock in the tower struck the hour of low 12. At that time four men in another room not far distant, were in whispered conference," the Signal recalled.
"The money that was taken from the treasury must never be accounted for," and the victim "alone stood in the way of their discovery and conviction," the newspaper said. "Something must be done, something desperate must be done. Dead men tell no tales."
The Signal said "in order to obliterate all evidence," the innocent treasurer’s employee "must be removed from the stage of action."
"It is not thought that he came to his death directly by hanging," the Middletown newspaper said. "The fumes of ether that emanated from that old vault indicated that he had been overcome and made ready for the sacrifice before he was hanged in that dismal place."
Long after the alleged suicide, the Signal said, "these fumes were detected and much comment did it cause." The newspaper also said "shortly after 1 o’clock on that eventful night two dark and mysterious figures were said to have been seen under the shadow of the courthouse."
No one was arrested or prosecuted for the murder in the 1860s and two of the culprits were still associated with county government in 1893, the Middletown paper claimed.
Was the ghost stalking the new courthouse in the 1890s to haunt his two surviving attackers?
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